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A Novelist In Business School: I am the Null Hypothesis

A Novelist In Business School: I am the Null Hypothesis

In my Statistics class[1] we spent a lot of time identifying the “Null Hypothesis”. According to my mac’s built-in dictionary the formal definition of this term is:

(in a statistical test) the hypothesis that there is no significant difference between specified populations, any observed difference being due to sampling or experimental error.

But that’s boring and hard to remember. My excellent professor defined it as

the state in which nothing interesting is happening.

The ever delightful Tom Scott dedicated a video to people disproving the null hypothesis in zero gravity.

Your Point?

My point is this: I’m an overfed middle-aged white dude. In America generally and in my MBA program specifically I am the null hypothesis.

This was made apparent a while back when a friend and colleague of mine, a woman of Asian descent, was approached by an advertising firm, asking if she would like to be in a commercial for our MBA program. In her words, “They only wanted me because I was a diversity double-shot”. They didn’t know anything about her or her life, just that she disproved the null hypothesis.

It was made clearer when I started looking for a scholarship. There are precious few scholarships available for overfed middle-aged white dudes.

And That’s a Good Thing

I don’t really need a scholarship. Yes, it will take me a non-trivial number of years to pay off my student loans. But I’m not worried about paying them off. I would much rather see people who don’t normally have access to business education getting into programs like mine than pay my own loans off a few months earlier. The deck is stacked in my favor in pretty much every other aspect.

Nice job Virtue Signaling, Nate!

Yeah, it looks like that. It might even be that. I’m still going to compete like crazy for any job I apply for, regardless of who the other candidates are. I’ve got a family to feed. But I recognize the problem. I’ve spoken to my fellow null hypotheses in our program, and to a man[2] we all agree.

We are a Null Hypothesis that Needs–and Wants–to be Disproven.

We need to work toward a day where my friend is no more surprising in the halls of business school or the boardrooms of major corporations than any overfed white dude. The shape of success should be that actual, genuine diversity is the state where nothing interesting is happening, and a company that has an overabundance of overfed white dudes is the aberration.

So What are You Doing about it, Nate?

Well, at present I’m not in a position to make any hiring decisions, nor am I anywhere near the C-level suites of any company. But just as consumers vote with their dollars, I can, as an employee, vote with my labor. I can expect my employers to be making efforts to hire fairly, or I can find a new job. I know it’s not much, but it’s a start.


  1. Technically my “Data Analysis and Decision Making” class, but even the professor called it “Stats”  
  2. Masculinity is part of the nullity of our hypothesis  
My Not-Very-Guilty Not-Very-Secret

My Not-Very-Guilty Not-Very-Secret

I have a guilty secret that isn’t much of either. It’s a small thing, a kind of not-quite voyeurism that doesn’t involve seeing anyone doing anything, and It’s definitely okay, because Apple made it possible for me to do it, right?

Before I creep out anyone I actually like I should come clean. What I’m talking about here is looking at other people’s iTunes Libraries on campus.

It’s easy to set up. All you do is tell iTunes that you want other people to be able to see your library, and you’re on the air for any other iTunes user on your network. On the University of Utah’s secure “please use this network” wireless network this can be hundreds of people. Sometimes their iTunes libraries are called something like “Bob’s Music”, sometimes they put some work into it, like “Sounds like BURNING!” or the always popular “zzzze bottom of ze list”. The technology makes it “impossible”1 to keep the songs in other people’s libraries, but you can listen to them so long as the other person’s computer is on and they have iTunes open. Log in at the right time and there is a world of music out there for you to listen to.

Now the interesting part of this is that I’m not your typical college student. To be totally honest, I’m not a student of the University of Utah at all: I’m an employee.2 So you wouldn’t think that musically, I’d have all that much in common with the other libraries floating around out there. I certainly wouldn’t think so. I imagine them all full of Dave Matthews or the reprehensible John Meyer, with Fergie or whatever female soloist Clear Channel thinks we should all love these days. And sure, there’s some of that. But what I find most times is that people in general have much better taste in music than Clear Channel gives them credit for. I often find alternative artists that get zero radio time3, and just about every single library has “Abba Gold”. I can’t decide if that last point is a good thing or a bad thing, but hey, I’ve got it too, so it’s common ground.

What’s more, on libraries that are definitely the property of someone who is much younger than me I will find music from the 60’s, and not just the Beach Boys. Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Yardbirds, The Birds, and other good bands will be there, often right next to the Franz Ferdinand stuff. It’s kinda making me think I should be less judgmental. Just because someone listens to the terrible radio playlist bands of the present day doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate good music as well. Just because someone likes country doesn’t mean they don’t also like Miles Davis.

So anyway, my library is called “Where the Sunbeams End and the Starlights Begin”. Have a look around. And thanks for bolstering my faith in humanity.

  1. yeah right []
  2. although for some reason I’m also listed as an alumnus of the U, even though I’ve never been enrolled there []
  3. on a college campus! Imagine! []